Tue | Feb 19, 2019

Peter Espeut | Schools biased against boys

Published:Friday | July 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Recent research by neuroscientists at New-castle University in northeast England has verified what we already know: that, on average, girls' brains develop earlier than boys' brains. They discovered that as the brain matures, it begins to 'prune' stored information, to focus on what is important.

For girls, this can happen as early as 10 years old, but for boys, it can take until between 15 and 20 for the same changes to occur. Girls tend to optimise brain connections earlier than boys, which explains why females generally mature faster in certain cognitive and emotional areas than males during childhood and adolescence.

Therefore, at age 10, girls are more conceptually developed than boys, and will perform better in examinations like GSAT.

Jamaica's education system is biased against boys because it forces both boys and girls at age 11 to sit the all-important examination to decide which high school they will attend. On average, girls will do far better and will be placed in traditional high schools, while the boys will predominate in all-age, junior high and the newly upgraded high schools.

The data published nowadays by the Ministry of Education hide the bias against boys. Data from 2008-2009 reveal that 70 per cent of the students in grades seven to nine in all-age schools are boys; most of the girls have gone on to better things. And 62 per cent of the students in grades seven to nine in junior high schools are boys. The traditional high and newly renamed high schools are lumped together in the statistics, so it is impossible to see the gender bias, but the girls are in the vast majority in the higher-quality high schools, showing the bias against boys inherent in our education system.


Literacy Test highlights bias


The published results for the Grade One Individual Learning Profile, the Grade Four Literacy Test, and the Grade Six Achievement Test show that the girls far outperform the boys. This is not just because there is favouritism towards the girls (the boys are usually put to sit at the back of the class), but because the girls are psychologically and physiologically more ready for these exams. Putting boys and girls together disadvantages the boys.

A big way that our education system favours girls is that there are twice as many school places in traditional high schools for girls than boys. The stark reality is that in Jamaica, we have only eight traditional high schools in Jamaica for boys alone (Calabar, Cornwall College, DeCarteret High, Jamaica College, Kingston College, Munro College, St George's College, Wolmer's Boys), while we have fully 15 for girls alone (Alpha Academy, Bishop Gibson High, Holy Childhood High, Hampton School, Immaculate Conception High, Marymount High, Merl Grove High, MoBay High, Mount Alvernia High, Queen's, St Andrew High, St Hilda's High, St Hugh's High, Westwood High, Wolmer's Girls). The rest are co-educational, and the ones I know have considerably more girls than boys. This system is grossly unfair to boys, and is evidence of extreme bias.

Putting boys and girls together in the same class in grades seven to 11 (forms one to five) places the boys at serious disadvantage. Academically, the girls will run circles around the boys, affecting their self-confidence, and causing them to overcompensate with macho behaviour.

Boys will do better in separate-sex schools, and so will the girls (Campion is an exception, because all the students in the intake - male and female - are in the nineties percentage band). It seems to me that the way forward is to convert all our schools at the secondary level into single-sex schools. And we need an equal number of schools for boys and girls. Six forms may be co-educational, for at that age the boys have caught up with the girls.

Jamaica's boys are under-performing because of the way our education system is designed. When will we ever have the transformational leadership to fix the design flaws?

- Peter Espeut is a development sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.